Monday, 30 November 2015

Best and Worst of November

We are at the eleventh hour before…. Well what do you think I’m talking about? But as easy as it might be to get distracted in ‘Star Wars’ mythology and nostalgia I had to remember the fantastic amount of films still heading our way, not to mention the brilliance of those that have recently gone by. It has been an unusual month, one of very high quality (shown by what the worst film is, don’t say I didn’t warn you) and of differing variety. We have witnessed the passion of Todd Haynes and the calculus of Sorkin but which one ended up on top for me? Here we are with just one month left and the candidates for the final top ten of the year increasing by the week. (By this point I’m considering a top seventeen list).

3: Black Mass
Johnny Depp steps up after an all too long break from serious acting work. The transformative process he underwent to portray Whitey Bulger is breath taking and the performance itself is one of utter revulsion, in the best possible way. While it may lack a sense of humanity the direction of the film is to be praised, as ‘Black Mass’ puts its own interesting spin on the gangster genre. It may not reinvent it but it performs that established formula pretty darn well, think of it like ‘Casino’ as in no one will say it is better than ‘Goodfellas’ but you cannot deny its ability to make you question morality and society as well as entertain you along the way.

2: Carol
No offense to ‘Back Mass’ but this is another step up entirely. Todd Haynes latest outing is one of haunting brilliance as it uses a story of love and loss to tackle themes of subversion and repression. It examines the hidden layers of society and questions how we judge what we do not witness. Haynes direction is spot on down to the smallest detail while Rooney Mara and Cate Blanchett are offering performances that rival their best (remembering that one of them has already won two Oscars for ‘The Aviator’ and ‘Blue Jasmine’ and briefly convinced me that she was Bob Dylan in ‘I’m Not There’). Beautiful and poignant, meticulously crafted and exquisitely executed, what else is there to say?

1: Steve Jobs
Just when you thought Aaron Sorkin had run out of ways in which to sum up our society through one figure, he does it here. I will now do what everyone else has done several times and call his script a work of genius, a staple of modern writing and one that few could ever have accomplished. That being said there are even fewer that could have executed it in such a superb way. Never mind that Michael Fassbender looks nothing like Steve Jobs, by the end of the film he is embodying the techno icon, all his faults (which were many) and his triumphs (also many, though more on a technological rather than a human level) are captured here. Danny Boyle’d direction is a shot of adrenaline that powers the film along, giving it pace and fluidity, moving from one piece of amazing dialogue to the next. A perfect cinematic collaboration of source material, writer, actors and director.

And the worst
Mockingjay Part 2
I tried to warn you. I’ll be brief, as I only have one major problem with the film, but sadly it is a big problem. It is a simple and undeniable fact, that is this, ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ is half of a movie, and it feels like one. By no means is it a horrible picture, but it is sadly a far cry from the great finale I was hoping for.   


"Dearest, there are no accidents, and everything comes full circle."

As she awaited the publication of her novel ‘Strangers on a Train’, Patricia Higsmith wrote another story to pass the time, one of relationships, love and loss. More specifically, the relationship between a long time housewife and a humble shop girl. Was it a daring political statement, a spin on the classic love story or just an interesting experiment for the author? In the context of 1952 it could be any of them but just because this one is coming out in 2015 does not make it any less relevant or less endearing.
In 1950s New York, a chance an encounter in a local department store leads to a forbidden romance between a sophisticated housewife named Carol (Cate Blanchett) and a quiet shop girl named Therese (Rooney Mara).
As I just stated, could a story about a romance of this nature still be relevant today, after all the world can be a much more tolerant place now than it was in the 1950s. Yet it can also be a harsher one, and that is exactly why ‘Carol’ is so engaging and compelling, and why it is nothing short of spectacular. It is hard to find a wrong note, from performances, to writing, to the brilliance of Todd Haynes’ meticulous direction. It also transcends many genres to find its own comfortable area from which to convey this story, obviously it is part romance, but there are touches of drama, mystery and at times thrills (though don’t expect ‘Fury Road’ levels of action) as these characters become embroiled in a plot that they themselves do not understand, one that is controlled by their own emotions, ones far deeper than they themselves can comprehend.
But these various elements are held solidly under one inescapable theme. It is the theme of entrapment, and the loneliness felt by a repression of one’s true self. Even with this love between the two main characters there is a painful sense of loss that is infused throughout he film, emphasised by how they must keep their love a secret.
  Todd Haynes is fairly familiar with such a theme as it has been incorporated into all of his films in one way or another. The conformity and repression felt by the many incarnations of Bob Dylan in ‘I’m Not There’ is mirrored by the subversive nature in ‘Poison’, these themes are still very much present in ‘Carol’. But what Haynes also achieves magnificently here is painting a picture of layers, you have the surface level and everything beneath it. We as a society can pretend to observe things on a surface level (as the first scene of the film does so) but though a chance encounter of the two main characters we are given a window into the world hidden from society, one of aching beauty and enduring emotion. Their interaction looks like a brief business meeting, but only after do we learn that it is flirting with danger and mystery.
The picture that Haynes paints is also a stunning one on every level. Beyond that it is designed exquisitely, as if every shadow, every colour and every image was meticulously scrutinized before being delivered to us. Each shot conveys so much about the themes of the situation, from romance to treachery. Just as the story encourages, the truth lies in the detail.
But it would have been easy for Haynes to simply run away and make a showcase for his directing skills. There is more to ‘Carol’ than that. Chiefly are its two leads, Blanchett and Mara. Rooney Mara induces a superb amount of innocence and curiosity, enough to make the otherworldly nature the situation obvious but not to appear as if she is not in control, she realises her own feelings even if she does not fully understand them. Blanchett, like the direction it is the tiniest detail that can leave the most striking impression in her performance, balancing her own conflicted emotions all the while. ‘Carol’ only really strays when the two are not together, losing focus on its own viewpoint occasionally and not fully invigorating the motive for each character. If anything it speaks to how compelling they are as a couple.
‘Carol’ is a subversive story of romance and repression. Balancing many different emotions and various visual set pieces make it compelling and alluring.
Result: 9/10

Sunday, 29 November 2015

Mockingjay Part 2

"My dear Miss Everdeen, make no mistake, the game is coming to its end."

As I already said in my review of the entire franchise ‘The Hunger Games’ seems to be ending rather more quietly than we first thought it would, based on the success of that first film. After all ‘Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2’ became the third highest grossing film of all time upon its release perhaps it is being overshadowed by every other franchise this year, amid the James Bonds and the Star Wars is there a place for this franchise any more, should we care about its conclusion? Regardless three years after we first met Katniss Everdeen, we have reached the end. So how does it stand up?
If you don’t know the plot by now then it’s a lost cause to join here. But for the sake of normality I shall try. With her forces gathered at the gates of the Capitol, Katniss Everdeen (Jennifer Lawrence) leads the Districts in a final assault against President Snow (Donald Sutherland). But even outside of the arena, dangerous games await….
It is difficult to know how to judge this, should we treat it as simply a chapter in a larger story or as a singular film? I ask this because sadly there is no denying that as a singular film, one that should stand on its own and act as an individual triumph, ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ is deeply flawed. After that statement I would say I have about half an hour before hundreds of devoted fans rip me apart, so I won’t waste any time.
Before you grab your pitchforks, can I first say that there is still a lot to like in this finale? Firstly there are some truly astounding performances on show, it would have been easy to phone in whatever style of acting they wanted, but these actors are still just as devoted to finishing this series as they were to starting it. Lawrence is given opportunities to be subdued emotionally as well as dramatically enhanced, that may sound idiotic but my point is that sometimes actors in a blockbuster don’t have the chance to be quiet and display their emotions in a subtler manner, which is a shame as we have a fine example here of how sometimes that can be infinitely more powerful, as if their grief is beyond emotional display (if you have read the book, or seen the film or spoiled it for yourself or had it spoiled by others you know what I mean).
   However there is a slight sense that she has outgrown the role by now. For me Katniss was at her most interesting in ‘Catching Fire’ and since then she seems to have been stuck at the same stage of development, conflicted about her role in the rebellion, and that is pretty much how she stays.
This grief felt by Katniss is felt throughout the entire movie. Once again I have to send praise to the film for actually repressing a lot of hopeful and happy thoughts that could have permeated the franchise (it’s a story about kids being forced to kill each other, how could anyone make that happy?). But perhaps the grit and toughness has been lost in the process, it may be sombre in terms of its emotions but not necessarily in its action.
The action in question can be a bit jarring when transitioning from what is mostly a dialogue driven film. When you have such a modicum of seriousness throughout the rest of the film, extravagant set pieces and horrific creatures appear a bit out of place and juxtaposed to the world we are in most of the time. It is only made worse by how slow certain scenes in the film are as well.
This is precisely why you should not split books of this size into two films. At least with ‘Deathly Hallows’ we were finished with the slow camping scenes in Part 1 and were then allowed to witness the ultimate destruction and culmination of the series. ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ however makes you notice the dragging of the source material, it feels like each scene was extended five minutes longer than it should have been. The result is a pace that distorts a good deal of what we are witnessing and slows down the plot to nearly a standstill, drawing out every conversation, every plot detail every event. By the end of the first hour the movie has hardly moved.
The simple fact is this, ‘Mockingjay’ should have been one film. So at the risk of breaking a few hearts, the finale to the series is not quite as stellar as it should be.
Result: 5/10

Saturday, 28 November 2015

Black Mass

"Just sayin' gets people sent away. Just sayin' got me a 9 year stretch in Alcatraz. So, just sayin' can get you buried real quick."

It would be easy to open this review with a small recap on Johnny Depp’s recent career, and that is exactly what I shall do (I literally just wrote it would be easy to do such a thing, why wouldn’t I?). Having been starring in several indie pictures throughout the 90s and then being sucked into a seamless mass of studio films in the 21th century (not all of these are terrible but ‘Alice in Wonderland’, ‘Mortdecai’ and whichever ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ that wasn’t the first one) his career may be in need of some sort of magnum opus, a reach back to the pure acting ability to prove to the world he van transform himself into more than just a quirky weirdo who makes funny gestures. Enter ‘Black Mass’.
Following a pivotal moment in the career of notorious gangster Whitey Bulger (Depp) as he is approached by an FBI agent called John Connolly (Joel Edgerton) who wants to recruit him as an informer in exchange for leniency on his own crimes, distilling the border between police and criminals.
I can immediately say that Johnny Depp has proved that he still has what it takes to be a serious actor. Undoubtedly many of you will have seen that terrifying teaser trailer in which Depp goes into a fear inducing monologue on par with Joe Pesci’s ‘funny how?’ speech from ‘Goodfellas’. That is just one of several scenes in which Depp stretches his abilities to go far beyond what we have seen of them in recent years. This performance ranges from the unnerving, to the ruthless and sometimes darkly comical. With all of the prosthetics Depp can sink into this role, but I would not say he disappears into it, I never quite forgot that I was watching a performance. Though it is still magnificent he appears to be someone that is playing Whitey Bulger, not someone who is Bulger.
The supporting cast around him are all on top form, they all succeed in raising multiple questions on morality and the lines between good and evil and it is all deeply impressive, or would be had ‘Sicario’ not already exploited that theme to what was, in my opinion, a deeper extent. But such a criticism is highly unfair to ‘Black Mass’ as it is not in direct competition with another film and should not be judged based purely on comparison to others. However I would say that I feel like I have seen a majority of this film before.
  The reason being that unless it is paying some sort of homage to classic gangster films ‘Black Mass does not quite stand apart from other films of the genre. It feels over familiar in parts and too predictable. Being based on a true story I can hardly criticise the plot but maybe a more interesting way of telling that story would have been necessary. It does manage to inject some new energy into the classic genre and put a somewhat unique spin on it at times, but mostly it resembles a lot of other crime films I have already seen. Though director Scott Cooper does at least avoid the imitation trick as there is no showy camerawork that you would find in a Scorsese or Coppola picture, just setting a tone and maintaining it for the whole movie.
But back to that supporting cast (I deviated there slightly). Bulger’s brother played by Benedict Cumberbatch is a wonderfully counterintuitive compass to the gangster, warning him of the dangers of the game he is playing with both sides of the law. His brother is also a senator, and combine that with his status as an informer for the FBI, Cumberbatch and Edgerton are essentially shields for Bulger. They regret their own actions but are duty bound to protect the criminal, by blood or by profession and both convey that perfectly.
‘Black Mass’ is elevated to new heights by the direction, performances and themes rather than its script, dialogue and emotions. So it may be superficially magnificent, but ultimately a little hollow.
Result: 7/10   

The Hunger Games: The Fanchise So Far...

In 2012 the makers of the first ‘Hunger Games’ must have been feeling pretty good about their chances to be owning the year 2015, they had a successful adaptation of a bestselling book that had a wides[read audience and critics praise. But then the Marvel Cinematic Universe became a huge phenomenon following the success of ‘Avengers Assemble’ that established itself as a serious franchise, then ‘Jurassic World’ was announced for this year, as was the latest ‘Mission: Impossible’ instalment as well as James Bond and of course who can forget that little movie called ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’. So it’s safe to say that the circumstances for the release of ‘Mockingjay Part 2’ are slightly different to what the conceivers of this franchise originally thought they would be.
But regardless this franchise has still made a pretty big impact, notice how I can type the word ‘Mockingjay’ without spell check telling me it is not a word. So with the final instalment now out and closing this saga, now is as good a time as any to look back at the previous films and work out why this franchise, above the tidal wave of other YA adaptations, is cherished by so many.
Looking back on that first film it is quite remarkable how quickly the whole ‘Hunger Games’ concept entered popular culture and was permeated with it, suddenly the concept of it was everywhere, people seemed to naturally know that the term ‘Hunger Games’ was referring to a battle to the death, and that young people were involved in it. It also rocketed to career of Jenifer Lawrence into the stratosphere. She was a credible actor before this, but now she was a superstar in every sense of the word (and after her role in Silver Linings Playbook the same year she was an Oscar worthy, blockbusting actor, a position few in the business can dream of achieving). Plus let’s all give a big cheer for a female led action franchise, it has been long overdue (regardless of what sad people on the internet say, the kind that populate a site called ‘Return of Kings’ and write articles about why not to see ‘Mad Max: Feminist Road’)
  Watching it again today there is still a lot to appreciate, I say it in a nice way when I say that it is the cheapest looking expensive film I’ve ever seen. It captures a grit and rawness that is not necessarily on screen, while at the same time there are genuine human characters to be found amongst the ruins of the world, and those ruins in question are shot in a stunningly bleak way, though maybe it went too far into that realm sometimes resembling a student film more than a major studio picture. Furthermore it creates a sense of satire and mockery during its first half in the capital in which we witness the elite and successful writhing in their own wealth and taking pleasure in the pain of less fortunate souls, during its time in the capital ‘The Hunger Games’ has a chance to stab at media, fashion, sport events and even haircuts (tell me Stanley Tucci’s hair was not hysterical). Then the violence and adrenaline of the arena is a sharp contrast, jarring and unnerving. Though I’m fairly sure it’s partially intentional to capture the horror of the games but the effect can be a bit too disorientating. I felt like I was watching two different movies, one outside of the games, and the other from within.
  But the sequel was out within one year ‘Catching Fire’, and there were many improvements to be found here. The film felt much more consistent in its tone and maintained a great character arc for Katniss as she reluctantly became more than just the survivor of the Hunger Games, she became a symbol for rebels to rally behind. It also steps things up on a technical level by not relying as much on hand held cameras, and by expanding this universe and filling it with new characters you get the great talents of Philip Seymour Hoffman to add to the already impressive cast that also included Elizabeth Banks and Woody Harrelson, with Tucci as well of course. Furthermore the games are more intriguing, the arena has a better lay out and with more obstacles to stretch the imagination of the writers through set pieces and creature designs. One can also credit how it was perhaps the only major blockbuster that year not to adopt 3D and the results speak for themselves, action seems more intense and immediate, there are no shots that obviously try to pander to the effect.
  On to the third one, and to be honest I was personally quite disappointed with this one. Mainly for one reason, where the previous two films in the series felt like tight, compacted and well-paced blockbusters, ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ just seemed to drag on and on for much longer than necessary. Such is the essential problem of splitting a medium sized book into two sections. It mainly the magnetism of its cast that kept me engaged to the story. Although even there the film has problems, although Katniss’ ark seemed solid in ‘Catching Fire’ when it comes to this film she remains virtually the same, reluctant to lead a resistance, and conflicted by her feelings for Peeta (the red line just appeared as I’m typing this, so I also have to ask why we can’t just spell his name as Peter), there isn’t really anything new to explore with the character here. This makes it all the more infuriating that Lawrence has little to do drama wise, and the fact that her supporting cast has now expanded so that in one movie you have Juliane Moore, P.S Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Woody Harrelson and Elizabeth Banks, surely one of the best supporting casts in recent memory, but there isn’t much for any of them to do really. The most they can do is allude to what might happen in the next instalment, the same goes for plot and action, nothing fully develops and nothing is fully resolved. Other classic sequels like ‘Empire Strikes Back’ would avoid this by closing character arcs or opening up potential new ones, not just continuing the same one without closure. There is still a lot to like, but ultimately for me ‘Mockingjay Part 1’ was exactly what the title suggested it would be, it was half of a movie.
But what are your thoughts on ‘The Hunger Games’ what do you think of ‘Mockingjay Part 2’, a full review is coming shortly but until then leave a comment below to let me know, remember to check out more writings on movies at Taste of Cinema, thanks and bye.

Wednesday, 25 November 2015

Captain America: Civil War Trailer Review

Cap’s TeamBlack PantherWar Machine
So the trailer for ‘Captain America: Civil War’ finally arrived! Despite speculation that it would not be released after the premiere of ‘The Force Awakens’ it is now here for all to see, and obviously there are a lot of things to talk about, so let’s get straight into it (unless you have no interest in Marvel, in which case you should stop reading, as I cannot help you with this article). Now of course we see new characters like Thaddeus Ross,
So rather than exploring the concept of superhero registration as the famous ‘Civil War’ story in the comics illustrates, it seems that this latest outing will see Cap and Iron Man facing off against each other over the treatment of Steve’s long time friend, temporarily resurrected superhuman mercenary (just like any other bromance) Bucky Barnes, also known as the Winter Soldier. Whether or not the issue of registration will stem from that and play a big part in the story (it looks as if it might) is for now unknown. Which is a pretty good direction to take this story, it ensures that the story can remain tight and compacted rather than risk sprawling out of control, because ultimately it appears to be concentrated on a simple friendship story, one that also continues the story ark of Cap following ‘The Winter Soldier’.
That is another significant plus for this trailer as it looks as if this is still very much Cap’s story, it just happens that Iron Man and a couple of other Avengers are joining the cast, though not completely stealing the limelight from what I can tell here. Once again Rogers is essentially fighting the world here, he can trust few people and be constantly on edge. That keeps in line with the tone of the Russo brother’s previous outing for Marvel, a slick spy thriller rather than an eccentric action movie. Based on their direction of the last film the Russo’s seem to have this well under control.
Captain America Civil War poster.jpg   Not only the tone, but their direction still looks spectacular. The fighting it fast yet focussed, as it successfully realises that speed and excitement does not mean shaking your camera about constantly, they keep a fixed or handheld camera at their disposal for these shots and manage to move it in unique and innovative ways that capture the ferocity of the actors movements without ever pandering to cheap gimmicks.
As well as that, there is also a real sense of a break up here. Iron Man and Cap are not actually interacting that much (which is a bold move as a majority of people may simply perceive this movie as Iron Man vs Captain America) but when they do you can feel a strong sense of betrayal between the two of them here, the fact that Stark openly admits, for what may be the first time, that Cap was his friend is very significant, made even more powerful by the fact that what follows is them pummelling seven bells out of each other.
That shot sums up why Marvel have nailed a formula for these big blockbusters, they give the fans what they want without making it feel like they are pandering to them. For this shot we see what we all wanted to see from this trailer, the two characters that we have supported and followed for this entire franchise, ones that we care about more than any other, squaring off. I am obviously talking about Groot and Rocket Racoon, except I’m not (although if I were to have my way…) With Captain America and Iron Man going at this rate, with this ferocity we see a franchise, a tone and us as an audience being divided. But then Marvel just adds Bucky to the mix, as a constant reminder of the principle for which these two are fighting for and to shake the whole situation up a bit, keeping it unpredictable and enthralling.
So overall this trailer reassures some confidence in this movie that was shaken by concerns for a lack of focus and established a clear tone, with some hints of weighty drama and development to add. ‘Civil War’ is shaping up to be a major staple on the Marvel Cinematic Universe. 
Also (for those who care) you can now find some of my insane writings on Taste of Cinema now, a great site for movie lovers who produce loads of great content every day, and some stuff that I wrote as well such as
Plus others by me and some by other authors that are actually good. So by all means check them out.

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 22 - Leia Organa

So far I have to admit the character analysis has been fairly limited, mainly because it is easy to take the characters of ‘Star Wars’ for granted amid all of the other amazing factors, but to leave out the few main characters that are worthy of an extensive examination would be a crime, or more accurately a mild inconvenience. Although to be honest it probably isn’t even that, I mean you could literally just type the name into Google and you would have about a dozen other articles of a similar nature if you are that desperate to read some views on Princess Leia Organa.
But regardless of that one can only examine the character on a surface level (which in some ways is where the characters work best) she is a rather fascinating addition to the ‘Star Wars’ universe. Like a lot of classic elements of ‘Star Wars’ she was additionally very different to her final incarnation, with earlier versions having her as a spoilt teenager who was reduced to being second fiddle to her two brothers.
In the final version of course she was developed to be a forceful and determined leader. Carrie Fisher was just 19 when she was given the role and George Lucas clearly spent a lot of time highlighting the contrast between her sweet and youthful appearance with her forceful and sharp witted attitude as well as her role as a major figure of authority. Having started the franchise as a typical damsel in distress she quickly becomes something much more competent and commanding, within the first five minutes of her rescue by Han and Luke it quickly dawns on her rescuers and the audience that she is now leading the matter. She gets them out of their entrapment in the prison block (remembering of course that her two saviours struggle to even make it out of the prison cell she was being held in before they find themselves close to being locked up themselves) and is one of the few characters in the first film that can talk back to Han Solo’s fast shooting quips, or as she puts it ‘I don’t know who you are or where you came from, but from now on you do as I tell you’. Han’s retort is far less impressive, even if he still thinks he has won the argument.
The fact that Leia is devoted so wholly to her cause is equally compelling, she sacrifices her home planet, her childhood, her innocence and even the love of her life out of commitment to the Rebel Alliance. These devotions are what make her an equal partner for Han, make no mistake, one could see it has her falling into his arms but in some respects it is quite the opposite. As someone who has spent her life planning attacks and leading armies, has that given her any time to care about an individual until that point?
Leia is the character who must hide her emotions above all others, she has to remain strong and lead this cause, to fight when no one else will and never let her own emotions dominate her actions. She only finally reveals her true feelings for Han when it is too late and he is frozen in carbonite only to be sold to ruthless gangsters and shipped halfway across the galaxy (I suppose it’s still better timing than Romeo and Juliet).
Then look at how in the final instalment it is Leia who manages to slay Jabba the Hutt, beyond Han’s personal vendetta with the gangster, beyond Luke’s threats and negotiations with him, Leia is the one who strangles him to death in an almost symbolic manner. How is it symbolic? She strangles him with the very chain he was using to keep her captive, to subjugate her and make her an object of amusement for him (which is really messed up when you think about it, he is a literal slug after all). The one time someone tries to control Leia, she kills them with the object of their attempted oppression of her. Make no mistake, she may be the strongest willed character in the whole series.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Steve Jobs

"You can't put a hammer to a nail. I built the circuit board, the graphical interface was stolen. So how come, ten times a day, I read 'Steve Jobs is a genius'?"

To repeat a phrase that several critics have undoubtedly used in the past few weeks, Aaron Sorkin may be the most gifted writer in the film industry today. His body of work includes brilliant work such as ‘A Few Good Men’ and ‘The Social Network’ and one might worry that after tackling one techno-icon with the biopic of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg that he is simply repeating himself by writing one about the only man that could rival Zuckerberg as the icon of the information age. Do not worry about that.
Set in a three act structure, each chronicling the events before a separate product launch. In 1984 in anticipation for the launch of the Macintosh, in 1988 as a returning Jobs (Michael Fassbender) prepares to introduce his NeXT system and in 1998 as he on the verge of unveiling the iMac. Behind the scenes he is plagued by breakdowns of an emotional and technical nature.
There is no denying that ‘Steve Jobs’ shares some similarities with ‘The Social Network’, both are about the biggest figures of the information age, both are portrayed as quite unlikable characters, both have a disgruntled partner and they share the irony of how someone who improves social communication are themselves socially inept when it comes to communication. They are also, completely thrilling.
By using this three act structure Sorkin keeps what could have been a deviated and frantic story become oddly claustrophobic. It also allows him to examine as many aspects of Jobs’ life as he could but also in a unique and inventive style. Among the issues with the 2013 film ‘Jobs’ was that it felt like a substandard biopic and lacked fixation on its titular character, as well as ending just when it was getting interesting. Sorkin’s script is compacted and fast but is also able to slow down when it needs to try and dissect the man that was Steve Jobs. The script also draws parallels with itself, contains beautifully intelligent dialogue, performs quick autopsies on its own characters and then maintains its humanity amid a sea of isolated minds. I feel as if I have to emphasise that Sorkin’s screenplay is a masterpiece of modern writing in cinema.
  Enough about the script though, however magnificent it is. For these words could ultimately mean very little without the talent to preform them, and the talent is very visible. Seth Rogan takes a dramatic turn as co-founder Steve Wozniak who repeatedly makes a compassionate case for why it is Jobs who is heralded as a genius and he remains mostly unknown. Kate Winslet offers a sense of solidity as marketing expert Joanna Hoffman by being the only character guided by her human emotions beyond anything else. Even Jeff Daniels offers a more dimensional take on the Apple board member that called for Jobs’ dismissal, a role that could easily be reduced to simplicity is given a justification to dislike the company’s founder.
The founder in question is the stand out performance. Perhaps the true masterfulness of Fassbender’s performance is how he makes the character magnetic and interesting while maintaining an icy cruelty. He also nails that fact that at the heart of this story is the relationship with Jobs’ daughter whom Jobs denies is his, going as far to create an algorithm to determine that there is a 28% chance she is not. But occasionally he takes a shine to her. An emotional flourish, or sign of empathy perhaps? Fassbender offers no conclusion to the character, no definitive statement on what, exactly, Steve Jobs was. He may not look like him, but he embodies Jobs in an astounding way.
Obviously Sorkin deserves credit for the films structure and tone but please, give some credit to Danny Boyle. His direction injects a sense of pulsating energy to the film and stages it in a more operatic and theatrical style. His long takes, rapid and dynamic camera movements and adrenaline fuelled tracking shots all serve as an allegory to match the tone of the scene. Each act is shot to be time specific, even down to the smallest details of 1984 being filmed in 16mm film, 35mm in 1988 and on digital for 1998. There is a sense of progress and development, of technological advancement. Something that rings very true for this subject.
‘Steve Jobs’ is a masterful and synchronised effort of filmmaking. From the performances to the writing and to the direction it is stunning and flawless.
Result: 10/10

Sunday, 8 November 2015

Journal of Whills: Part 21 - Blockbusting

George Lucas had been through thick and thin to complete his space opera, and he was hoping to just sit back and watch it roll out. Lucas was anticipating a colossal disappointment in box office returns, with such a tumultuous production and several executives at 20th Century Fox calling for his blood as payment for what they considered to be a waste of their time and resources. Lucas and the producers were all anticipating the worst, fearing that it would be a film that they would want to forget, when in reality, most would never want to forget it.
They had good reason to be worried though, executives were worried that ‘Star Wars’ would be beaten by competing summer movies like ‘Smokey and the Bandit’ they moved the date to May 25th, far from a prime release date, with few rivalling films out at the same time. Even then though, less than 40 cinemas actually agreed to show ‘Star Wars’ causing 20th Century Fox to strike a deal and release it in conjunction with ‘The Other Side of Midnight’, meaning that if they wanted to show the eagerly anticipated adaptation of the best selling book, they had to show this science fiction picture that was relatively unknown apart from the infamous rumours circling cinema insiders of disastrous productions and an insane young director. Incidentally I have yet to see ‘The Other Side of Midnight’, though critic Roger Ebert called it ‘awful’ so I can assume it did not set the world on fire, unlike the film it was released next to. But again you would not think it as there was no time for press screenings, advertisement campaigns of a large nature or mass production of merchandise.
So on that fateful day of May 25th 1977, ‘Star Wars’ erupted onto cinema screens (and when I say cinema screens I still mean a relatively small amount, some theatres got around Fox’s ultimatum by showing it mostly at late screenings). Within the first day it had started to break records as out of the 36 theatres showing ‘Star Wars’ that day all of them broke their all-time house records for a single day, 20th Century Fox quickly broadened its release (though still having little reason to believe it was anything other than a peculiarity). Producer Gary Kurtz later revealed that he went on a radio talk show to promote the film on its premier date and was startled to be given a very detailed description of the movie by one caller, who revealed that he had already seen it four times.
There is of course a famous story of George Lucas, believing the film would fail, taking a vacation in Hawaii upon its release and was naturally staggered to find his film playing at a theatre near his resort, weeks ahead of schedule. He then saw Walter Cronkite discussing the film and its success on CBS and realised he had created something quite remarkable. Francis Ford Coppola even heard in the Philippines and sent a telegram to ask his now much wealthier friend for emergency funding for ‘Apocalypse Now’.  Another friend of Lucas that gained a significant sum of money from the film’s success was Steven Spielberg as he and Lucas had agreed to give each other 2.5% of the profits of their current movies ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ and ‘Star Wars’ as a way of casting a wager of which would be more successful. As of today Spielberg has made $40 Million from that small bet.
In the wake of the film everyone had their names thrust into stardom, Hamill, Ford and Fisher became household names and even crew members were being stopped on the street for autographs. The indie filmmaker who had openly despised commercial Hollywood was now credited with reinvigorating it. Before 1977 20th Century Fox’s biggest profit from a single year was a total of $37 million, but they broke that record that year with a staggering $79 million. ‘Star Wars’ itself would go on the overtake ‘Jaws’ to become the highest grossing film of all time.

Sunday, 1 November 2015

Best and Worst of October 2015

I know this is a little later than usual, but I had to see one more movie before writing up a summary of this month, the main reason being that I didn't want to stack that one within the next month's line up, because it looks as if it is going to be even more difficult to choose the three best than this one. After a disappointing summer the winter season of 2015 is proving the be fantastic, in fact choosing three movies for October was not enough and I had to give an honourable mention to 'Macbeth' and 'Crimson Peak' (because despite my resignations with it, Del Toro's film remains engrained in my mind). But we saw some welcome returns and continuing trail blazers with the best, and some tiresome repeats with the worst.

3: Spectre
The 24th instalment in the James Bond franchise shows little sign of the secret agent slowing down. Sam Mendes sets up a superb film that is nearly equal to its predecessor in every respect (and given that its predecessor was 'Skyfall', that is no small feat). The cast are all excellent, as is the stunning cinematography. There is such a sense of fun to the movie that it may be the best time I've had this year at a cinema (maybe 'Fury Road' rivals it) but does not skip the dramatic tension. The action is staged excellently and above all we get yet another view into the world of spies, diabolical villains and globe trotting, pulse pounding brilliance.

2: Sicario
When your track record includes 'Prisoners' and 'Enemy' it would take a lot for your next film to be in consideration as your best. To find such a unique, brutal and sometimes horrifying take on the war on drugs is impressive, but to include a sense of humanity is another accomplishment all together. Emily Blunt deserves to be nominated for her work here, but even she is slightly overshadowed by Bennicio Del Toro who should nab a supporting actor nomination. It examines lines of engagement and morality, a world in which it is unclear which side you stand on. The film is visually brilliant, constantly tense yet always compelling.

1: The Martian
It is so great to see the talent of Ridley Scott put behind such a fantastic script as they go hand in hand so well. The science fiction drama is a tale of survival and endurance, as well as innovation and intelligence but retains a sense of fun throughout. It allows Matt Damon to combine the best aspects of himself into a wonderful and compelling performance that is funny, compelling and intelligent. He is backed up by an astonishing supporting cast as well. Though the film feels long it never drags, I was enthralled throughout every aspect from the packed and frantic terminals of NASA to the desolate and lonely landscapes of Mars.

And the worst...
There is no nice way of saying this, but 'Pan' is nothing more than a jumped of children's film, that feels like it was designed by a child. The performances are laughably over the top, and at no point does the environment feel anything other than artificial. At the same time this reimagining does not even scratch the surface of the Peter Pan story, there are no new aspects to it, not new visions within it and nothing remotely original. There is playful, then there is ludicrous, 'Pan' is the latter. 


"Is this really what you want? Living in the shadows, hunting, being hunted, always alone."

If there is one thing that surrounds ‘Spectre’s’ release and production, it is what the future of Bond will be. Questions are cropping up over who will replace Daniel Craig in the role if it is his last outing as 007. Then you have the question of who will replace Sam Mendes if this really is his last venture of directing 007. I would be mournful to see them both leave at the same time, as they have both brought so much to this franchise, however if it is the case I would say they are most definitely finishing on a high note.
Following an unsanctioned mission in Mexico from the posthumous orders of his former head of operations, James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself under pressure from the transitional MI6 amidst the plot of a shrouded nemesis that controls a powerful organisation, whose reach is nearly unprecedented.
With ‘Skyfall’ being the most successful Bond film ever the pressure was on Mendes to craft another film of equal magnificence but differing tones. ‘Quantum of Solace’ suffered from trying too hard to emulate ‘Casino Royale’ instead of establishing its own style. ‘Skyfall’ excelled because not only was it an amazingly crafted film, but a celebration of all Bond films before it. So where can one go now?
It is more playful than ‘Skyfall’, not to the point where it lacks dramatic tension, but there are some genuinely comedic moments (funnier than most things that pass for comedies these days). This comedy comes more from character interaction though, particularly scenes involving Q (Ben Wishaw) and Bond in which the quartermaster tries to keep 007 grounded in both literally and rationally.
Contrary to being just a method to move from one action sequence to another, the plot flows with a natural grace and when those action sequences do arrive they are made all the more inventive. It is remarkable that Mendes has proved to be so excellent at directing action as ‘American Beauty’ and ‘Jarhead’ were certainly not renowned for their breath taking stunts (not to say they are not brilliant of course). Once again the exciting scenes just move both viscerally and sinuously, taking you through this world without ever feeling uncomfortable or overwhelmed, meaning that it can actually be enjoyable instead of confusing.
The film begins with an astonishing tracking shot through the streets of Mexico City and in nearly every scene from there I found myself contemplating how beautiful this movie was. Like ‘Skyfall’ the visuals are stunning, but not to the point where they take you out of the film, if anything it just pulls you further in.
Another thing that makes this instalment so enjoyable is how magnificent its cast is. As good as Daniel Craig is I want to see some great supporting characters as well, and ‘Spectre’ delivers with Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw, Monica Bellocci, Moriarty (or if I have to use is real name, Andrew Scott) and Naomi Harris (who after ‘Skyfall’ continues to do the remarkable thing of making Moneypenny a real person rather than a side character for Bond to unload his paperwork on, did that sound weird?) In the form of Dave Bautista we get the one thing that has been missing from modern Bonds, an abnormally strong and seemingly unstoppable henchman. Then there are more prominent figures like Lea Seydoux and Christoph Waltz, they are all superb.
If there is a flaw to ‘Spectre’ it may be that it relies slightly too much on the established 007 formula. We know who Bond is before we see the film, and we know who these characters are and what their past is so rather than waste time to explore it any more ‘Spectre simply builds on those expectations. It also builds most of its tension of the back of previous instalments, that’s not necessarily a huge flaw in a franchise but it can do harm if you immediately presume the audience is caught up, though I wouldn’t say you need to catch up in order to grasp the film. The final act, while still amazing, feels slightly choppy in terms of structure, where it seems to finish and then goes on further. What I call ‘Return of the King’ syndrome.
But as I said before, there is also a sense of finality, which is befitting if you believe the rumours concerning the future of Craig’s turn as Bond and for Mendes as director, but what a way to bow out. ‘Spectre’ is Bond at its best.
Result: 8/10